An Ashland City Council majority voted not to fund design work on a pipeline project to bring Medford water to Ashland &

a recommended option that would serve the growing population and provide an emergency supply in case of flood, wildfire or prolonged drought.

Public Works Department staff had advised the council to approve a $699,229 design and engineering contract with Carollo Engineers P.C.

Ashland already has paid almost $2.46 million on the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water pipeline project. Total future costs for Ashland are estimated at $12.58 million.

Charges on new development in town would have paid for 75 percent of the project. The rest would have been paid for by increased water bills that would cost the average household another $1.50 per month.

An outside consultant previously estimated supplemental Medford water will be needed in 2016 because of Ashland's growing population. Ashland has a limited supply of water from Ashland Creek, which is stored in Reeder Reservoir above Lithia Park.

Councilor Eric Navickas, who voted with the majority to halt work on the TAP water project, said Ashland should control its water use through conservation and development that doesn't put big demands on water resources.

He also said the city has not dealt with the costs of improving its sewage treatment plant to meet current and future Oregon Department of Environmental Quality regulations.

The city was recently fined for discharging treated wastewater that did not meet DEQ standards.

"The bigger issue is the cost of the wastewater treatment facility. We need to address that because of DEQ requirements. We are seeing fines and we will see more fines," Navickas said. "I can't put pressure on the taxpayers to fund wastewater treatment improvements and TAP."

In past years, tightening DEQ regulations have led the city to invest millions of dollars to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant. The city has yet to decide how to deal with new DEQ rules that cities can't discharge warm treated wastewater into creeks and rivers.

Councilors Cate Hartzell, David Chapman and Alice Hardesty voted with Navickas not to fund the TAP design work.

Project proponents

Councilors Russ Silbiger and Kate Jackson wanted to move forward on the project.

"This is the first step in essentially trying to kill the project," Silbiger said. "In the long-term, it will be necessary for Ashland &

if for nothing else than having a good second source of water in case of fire, flood or climate change."

Ashland lost water and sewer services for two weeks when the 1997 New Year's flood knocked out city facilities.

"Hopefully, we won't have an emergency or drought years and end up regretting this," Silbiger said.

Former Public Works Director Paula Brown, who is working part-time for the city to finish special projects, previously recommended that the council not only move forward with TAP, but that it speed up the design and construction timetable so that the supplemental water would be available in 2011.

Bob Willis, an engineer with the Portland firm Brown and Caldwell, said in April that Ashland should connect to Medford for backup water because Reeder Reservoir is located in a canyon that is susceptible to floods. The warming climate is also triggering algae blooms in reservoirs and lakes that can create a bad taste and odor in drinking water, according to Willis. Some types of algae also are toxic, although Reeder Reservoir has not experienced toxic algae blooms.

Willis said many cities in Oregon &

including Medford, Eugene, Salem and Portland &

have more than one water supply in the form of reservoirs in watersheds, wells, springs and interconnections with other cities' water supplies.

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